Streets to Streams – Chennai’s Monsoons.

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Water, water all around… Lot of drops being drained!

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11cms of rainfall in 3 hours is indeed a record; sheets of water immediately inundate the so-called low-lying plains of Chennai and her suburbs. Little do we realize, that these low-lying plains are very much our water storage points such as lakes-ponds etc, which have now been built upon.

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A metropolis such as Chennai is sure to have her share of urban woes. However, with an appropriate planning and a collective approach, these could be controlled efficiently. Chennai’s weather story in 2015 is a remarkable one. When we were bracing for a hot summer, surprise showers in May kept the city much cooler than expected. Then came the scorching, never ending heat wave conditions that prevailed all through July-August-September, mildly extending into the first week of October and now this deluge.

The first downpour in October was evidently welcomed with joy, but with every passing day and steady rains, our streets became streams. This sure does irk citizens. However, this is one more classic example of how we waste a natural resource available in plenty.

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Just a few weeks ago, Chennai was facing one of the worst water shortages in years and we were hoping for large volumes of rains. When our expectations are met with heavy rains, we are clueless on how to conserve it for the future. This is the story year-on-year, where large quantum of fresh water drains into the Bay of Bengal and then we spend on desalinating the same or buy from tankers just weeks from downpour.

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We anticipate action from the Government and eventually forget the role that we as citizens could play in this democracy. Our involvement in conserving our fresh water habitats such as lakes, ponds and rivers should be greater in the future. From preventing dumping of wastes on the banks and bunds of water bodies, to not letting out sewage flow into it, we need to be cautious. Our demands to political establishment in the upcoming elections should be: a better Water Policy; a stronger need to prevent illegal sand mining; prevent encroachment of freshwater bodies & a scientific infrastructure to efficiently conserve resources such as water.

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Chennai is a blessed city with three rivers, a large marshland and hundreds of lakes. A topography that resembles a bio-diversified paradise, this city could be a model for ecological conservation with ethical urban development. South and West Chennai are rich with lakes and ponds; however, today several of these water bodies are facing imminent threat from real estate developers and local politicians.

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Chennai’s lakes are part of a large network; they are each linked with one another with a proper channel system. Rapid urbanization has led to concrete encroachment of several of these channels. This in return chokes, thereby flooding the neighborhood during the monsoons; water is diverted and let to runoff waste into drains and finally into the ocean. Water that was meant to run into the lake for storage and future use is criminally wasted by all of us.

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The system of lakes in the Padappai-Mudichur-Tambaram-Vandalur-Mambakkam belt, those in the Velachery-Adambakkam-Puzhithivakkam belt, Thiruneermalai-Pallavaram-Keezhkattalai-Narayanapuram belt, the Madambakkam-Perumbakkam-Sithalapakkam-Arasankazhani-Thazhambur belt, the Mangadu-Thiruverkadu belt, Ayapakkam-Ambattur belt of lakes are gems that decorate Chennai’s geography. When the channels that link these lakes are cleaned, cleared and maintained, water would flow free into the large tanks in these areas. The condition today definitely needs to change. More civil society participation and greater administrative planning by the Government in conserving these lakes is now a compulsion more than a choice.

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When conserved better, these lakes would ensure:

  • Better ground water retention in the neighborhood,
  • Temperature regulation,
  • Ecological diversity and
  • Also would prevent waterborne diseases when maintained as freshwater bodies.

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With poorly planned constructions taking over majority of the above mentioned areas, it is next to impossible to revive these lake system to what it was twenty years ago! However, if we collectively act now, conservation of what is left will for sure reduce the impact in the coming years.

Immediate steps to take, post this monsoon:

  1. To have boundaries clearly demarcated for all our lakes,
  2. To safely relocate the lake bed encroachers through dialogue,
  3. To clear the inlet and outlet channels wherever possible,
  4. To strengthen bunds to lakes which do not have one,
  5. To desilt lakes scientifically wherever needed,
  6. To introduce Community based conservation model to efficiently protect these water bodies,
  7. To reinforce strict norms in maintenance, with no dumping of wastes or release of sewage into fresh water bodies,
  8. To declare these freshwater bodies as conservation sites for foolproof results.

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A collective positive approach by Civil society and the Government is the only way we will be able to conserve Chennai’s freshwater bodies for future. Our approach needs to be scientific and high on logic with learnings from the recent past. If rolled out and well managed, Chennai’s new age water conservation model can be a global trendsetter. Every drop of water and ray of sun that hits Chennai should be used wisely, conserved and not wasted. A city that we call home deserves to be treated better for us to remain the best.

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-Jai Hind-

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